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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Frugality (Part VIII): Storing Bulk Purchases

Now I'm back, to let you know you can really save some money.

This post is actually what began the whole series. We had people asking us how we handled buying in bulk, how we stored the things we bought so they didn't go bad (it's not a good deal if it goes bad), things like that. Well, ta-da! Here it is.

First, though, I am going to tell you about my great deal this week. Local asparagus is coming in, and our grocery store had it on sale for $0.98 a pound. On top of that, we got our rewards back this week, so really it was free! Our total for groceries this week, from two stores, because of our rewards rebates was: $10.34. If you include the month's feed for the chickens, it was $52.34. Not bad, eh? I never know if I should spread out the monthly costs over the month or just count them in my weekly cost, realizing that some weeks will be much lower than our budget and some will be much higher. Using our grocery store credit card for all our purchases is really coming in handy for us, when you add in the $0.15 a gallon discount on gas, it has been more than worth it for our family. If you can make sure that you pay off your entire balance each month, so you don't accrue any interest, and your grocery store of choice offers a card like this, I strongly recommend getting a credit card like this one. Again, it's not a great deal if you end up paying interest on your purchases, or worse, the minimum payment, which ends up costing you three times or more the cost of the original purchase. Be wise in your use of credit cards. Some people find they spend much more when they use theirs; we treat ours like our debit card, and have a maximum total we charge which is far under our credit card limit.

I am still trying to cut back on our purchases and cook more from our freezer and pantry (and a huge thank you to Cathy who inventoried our two basement freezers for us while we were gone! We will be tackling the pantry, spice cabinet and upstairs freezer over the next couple weeks). This week's menus are mostly from what we had here already, with the exception of things like the asparagus (of which we bought enough to freeze). I was encouraged by reading another blogger's (I can't remember specifically who, forgive me for not giving credit) post about how much they spent per person for food each day. It was something like $5 a day, which is really great, especially as they buy almost exclusively whole foods, organics and local products, and live in Canada where the costs are higher. So, I decided to work out our daily budget per person.

Guess what it was? Just guess. I'll wait.

$2.53 a day per person.

I include Yasmina in this calculation because she eats things like yogurt, soup, mashed banana, applesauce and broths and because the way we do our grocery budget things like diapers, wipes, baby powder, diaper rash cream, laundry detergent, etc. are all represented and she certainly makes use of all of those. This amount includes all our paper products, cleaning supplies, the chicken feed and the cat food, too. This average also takes into account our higher grocery costs in November and December. I feel pretty good about that. This is not meant to brag or make you feel bad, on the contrary, I want to encourage you to start thinking about how you can do this, too. We are still working toward reducing our grocery costs, since it is one of the few more changeable items in our budget. I haven't been doing too well in bringing our weekly spending to half of what we budget, but I have brought it down by about a quarter to a third, on average. You can do this, it really is just a shift in mind set.

Anyway, here is what I really wanted to share with you. Rubbermaid is your friend.

The two unmarked containers are evaporated cane juice (organic, non-chemically refined sugar) and brown sugar. If you can't tell them apart when you look at them or smell them, you are not allowed in my kitchen to cook. And, yes, that is a lot of organic powdered sugar. Trader Joe's only has it around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it is way cheaper there than at the grocery store, so we stock up. It is organic evaporated cane juice finely ground and mixed with non-GMO, organic cornstarch (cornstarch is in regular powdered sugar, too). I'm working on getting them into airtight plastic or glass.

These are not Rubbermaid. These are pet food storage containers, but they don't come pre-pet fooded and you don't break any federal laws by storing people food in them (yet). I forgot to mention that they have casters on them, so they are easy to move around also.

Rich first found these at our Ace Hardware, but they aren't always there, so basically, he buys them as he finds them. They cost about $20.00 each, but pay for themselves in under four months in our house, because of the price difference between buying our flours, beans, grains, rice, etc. in bulk and large quantities rather than in small packages or per pound in smaller amounts. I was going to wait for the larger containers to put our whole wheat flour in, and repurpose the whole wheat flour container for the powdered sugar (after washing it, of course), but we are getting into grinding our own grains now, so I will get something for the wheat berries and use medium sized bucket with a lid to store the flour we grind (because what is the point of grinding your own wheat if you are going to let it sit and get stale). Another thing to do, if you have the freezer space, is to store grains, nuts and flours in the freezer, if they are a larger quantity than you can use in a reasonable amount of time. This will keep them from going rancid.

These actually take longer to pay for themselves, but because we are able to buy natural sea salt with no additives for so much less than the store brand iodized salt, we picked them up anyway. These take about eight months to pay for themselves. We used to refill the salt containers from the store, because that was free, but those containers died after about two refills, so we splurged on these. They are entirely Chinese, though, so we run them through the dishwasher before we use them. And pray. And burn incense and sprinkle with holy water, perhaps anointing with holy oil. I'm just kidding about that, well, not the praying part. We also don't store things like vinegars or oils in them that could leech out whatever junk is in the container. You probably noticed the canisters and jars on the counter, also. These have coffee, vanilla sugar and other things that we use on a regular basis in them.

This is where we store our oatmeal, both steel cut and rolled. We need to move to a larger container for each of these, but for now, this is what we have. I repurpose these containers all the time as our needs change. We have tons of these, and some similar to what you saw in the baking drawer for beans that we buy in smaller quantities. My mother in law picked a bunch of these containers up for us at the dollar store. We get the rubbermaid when it is on sale.

See how I just taped the instructions from the package we first bought before we got them in bulk onto the tops.

I also reuse yogurt containers. Nancy's is great for that. Since we saved them anyway to send food home with people or to freeze soup or stock, before we used to make our own yogurt, and now we occasionally buy them when we let our yogurt cultures die or use it all up on accident without saving any for the next batch, they are sturdy and have little spots on them to write what is in them, they are really convenient for storage. Glass jars from products that you buy that cannot be reused for canning are also great containers for yeast, rice, beans, etc. These are especially good if you don't buy them in the large quantities that we do. We buy baking powder in pretty large containers, so, we reuse the containers and refill them. Since we have a few around here, we label the others after they are cleaned and use them to store other things. When I get my pantry even remotely organized, I'll show you those containers, also.

Notice how we clearly mark everything. Ask me why. Aside from the fact that sometimes the visual cues to what are in each container are only clear to me, and there are at least three other people who cook in this house, which could result in disaster, I am still traumatized by two incidents in my early childhood.

When I was a little girl, my mom was divorced and in graduate school. So, I learned to cook very young. I was able to do simple things like toast waffles and pancakes, make toast, cut and serve grapefruit, pour out cereal and milk and make scrambled eggs (yes, on the stove) by myself (I jumped up on the counter and sat next to the stove while I cooked - I cannot believe I did this at age four and I've never let my children do it by themselves that early). Well, my mom had two shakers, one for flouring the counter filled, astoundingly enough, with flour, and one with sugar which I used on cereal or grapefruit (this is such a hilarious error, that I'm not just deleting it - I have no idea what made me type this next part) or to season my eggs. They were identical. You can see where this is going. I put flour in my breakfast one morning. It was very bad. If that isn't terrible enough, my mom also had nearly identical silver pots that she used to put coffee and syrup in to keep them warm. I got the coffee one by mistake and had pancake mush for breakfast one day. I am still working through these two incidents.

So, mark your containers. That is the lesson to be had here internets.

Previous Posts:
Make it at Home
Grocery Shopping
Waste Not, Want Not
The Celery Stalks at Midnight
Use What You Have
Combining Trips

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Pet food containers! Brilliant!

I'd actually been thinking last night about what in the world I'd store 50 lbs. of rice or beans in if I bought that much at once (which I'd like to do). This totally answers the question. Thank you!

I actually already buy 25 lbs. of flour at a time, but it seems to do fine in its own bag. Might be nice to get a container for it though.

How do you switch stuff out? You know, when you have a couple meals worth of stuff in the bottom, and a new bag to replace it . . . do you pour the new bag in on top of the old stuff (doesn't seem right to me), or take the old stuff out, put the new stuff in, put the old stuff back on top? take the old stuff out, put the new stuff in, put the old stuff in a different container?
We usually dump the little remaining in the containers into the lid (they are removable) or a bowl, put the new stuff in and then put the older stock on the top.
About labeling everything:

I was hosting a New Year's party, and we were serving homemade pizza. We ran out of my usual flour for the last pizza crust, and dived into another container.
It turns out that if you substitute wheat gluten for half the flour in a pizza crust, the pizza crust isn't actually edible, but the dough has a very interesting consistency.
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